The weekly “My Music Row Story” column features notable members of the Nashville music industry selected by the MusicRow editorial team. These individuals hold key positions that help advance and promote the success of our industry. This column shines a light on the invaluable people who spin the wheels and keep the music playing.
Jen Conger quickly rose through the ranks to become a business leader at FBMM after becoming the first female business partner in the firm’s history and doing so at a record pace in less than 10 years. In Conger’s nearly two decades of experience in the music industry, she has mentored a large list of accomplished artists who have collectively received 17 Grammy Awards, as well as numerous ACMs, CMAs, Billboard and the Golden Globe Awards. She is a member of the ACM, CMA, SOURCE, the Recording Academy, and the Country Music Hall of Fame Troubadour Society, as well as an alumnus of the Society of Leaders in Development (SOLID) and a member of the Leadership Music’s Class of 2020.
Conger was instrumental in the development and execution of seven sold-out concerts held at Bridgestone Arena, the proceeds of which – over $4 million to date – benefited the Country Music Hall of Fame. For the past nine years, she has organized a clothing and instrument donation on behalf of her clients, with donated items totaling over $110,000 going to the WO Smith Music School, and in 2018 participated in the preparation for a sold-out benefit concert. in October of that year, which raised over $700,000 nett for various music industry-focused charities, including MusiCares.
Conger will be honored as part of the current class of MusicRow’s Rising Women on the Row on October 20. For more details about the course and the event, Click here.
MusicRow: Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small town called Greensboro, Georgia. I went to high school in Athens, Georgia. My parents drove an hour each way to take me to school there. I ended up going to Nashville University at Vanderbilt.
What did you study?
I studied US History and English and majored in Film Studies. I wanted to be a director. I got accepted to NYU, but my parents didn’t want me to go too far. I came here knowing nothing about the music industry.
What did you do after graduation?
I had obtained an internship in a music video production company. They made music videos for country artists. I had been an executive assistant to one of the owners and the accountant left shortly after starting. I raised my hand because I was a troubled kid right out of college trying to make ends meet. I thought, “I don’t necessarily know accounting, but I’m good at math and money, so how about trying all that accounting stuff?” I just fell into it, but I had a knack for it. I thought if this was something I was interested in, I should focus on a place that does that.
Is that how you ended up at the FBMM?
Yes. A friend of mine told me about a job offer at the FBMM. That was 18 years ago, I’ve been here ever since. I fell into it, went back to school and got my master’s degree in accounting, and just learned as I went.
What did you learn right away when you fell into business management?
People need financial advisors. Unfortunately, you are not taught this in school. Very often we have musicians who suddenly have all this fame, but the reality is that the money comes long after the fame. Having a team in place that is a good steward of your money is so important. The same goes for having people on your team who know the music industry versus someone who isn’t well versed in royalties and touring and so on. This can cause a lot of trouble for artists.
Since you had no intention of being in the music industry, when did you feel like you were in the right place?
Probably two years after working at FBMM. Went on tour with a client and loved it. I loved seeing how the bills I was paying reflected on tour. The video bill, the trucking bill, the bus bill… See it set up live. That’s when I realized this was going to be a career for me.
Business leaders are the unsung heroes of the music industry. What are some of your proudest moments you’ve worked on backstage?
We are not in the limelight and that is normal. We do the work. I think sometimes we make it look too easy. We do the work so the artist doesn’t have to worry about it, but the artist doesn’t see the mountains we move every day to do these things.
I have one client in particular who has hosted several shows to benefit the Country Music Hall of Fame. I was at the forefront of this, organizing it and haggling with vendors to try and get as much money as possible for the Country Music Hall of Fame. At the end of the night, to be able to let the Hall of Fame know that we have three-quarters of a million dollars on the way, that’s pretty cool.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
The devil is in the details. It is important to check your decimals. (Laughter) Be responsible. When you get it wrong, chances are you think it’s a lot worse than it actually is. There’s probably a long line of people who have made the same mistake, so be responsible and own it. Most importantly, learn from that mistake so you don’t repeat it. I tell new recruits some of the really big missteps I’ve made moving up. [Through my errors]they are able to understand that even though I made a huge mistake, I’m still here because I learned from it and grew from it instead of trying to be defensive.
Who have been some of your mentors?
From a personal point of view, my mother is amazing. She sacrificed herself for us and was our driver. (Laughter) She had cancer in her early thirties with two young children; and she sacrificed herself and did what she had to do for her family. From a personal point of view, I always try to imitate that. I have two kids and I try to be a fraction of the heartbreaking mother she used to be.
Professionally, Chuck Hull was a great mentor. He’s a tour manager for one of my artists. He has been in the business for 40 years. He’s worked with strangers you’ve probably never heard of, like Elvis Presley, Paul McCartneyand John Hiatt. He took me under his wing for the past 20 years and taught me about the world of touring, both the historical side of things and how things have changed over time. He’s like a surrogate father to me.
In your opinion, what are the best qualities of our industry?
That it is constantly evolving. Technology is constantly evolving. Revenue streams are constantly changing. There is no longer a cookie-cutter idea of what an artist should look like. It used to be a cookie cutter, but we’re definitely moving away from that and I think that’s a wonderful thing.
What moment have you had that your little kid would find so cool?
I had a cry at an awards show when my client won Artist of the Year. Business leaders are never in the limelight, and we are certainly never mentioned in acceptance speeches, so that was a big deal. [Laughs] And then meet Dolly Parton.
What might people not know about you?
I know a lot of trivia about cinema. My favorite movies are Freedmen and The Godfather: Part II. My favorite Christmas movie is die hard.
You will be honored to MusicRowThe October 20 Rising Women on the Row Breakfast. What was your experience as a woman in the industry?
Being a woman in the music industry isn’t easy. It’s still a good old boys club. Again, I think we’re moving away from that, which is wonderful.
As women, we need to look out for each other. I’ve seen that hazing mentality of, “It wasn’t easy for me, so I’m not going to bend over backwards to help this next generation too many times.” We have to erase this mentality from our brains because it does not help. It only makes the problem worse. We all need to work with each other and encourage each other along the way.